Monday, March 3, 2008

Cheaper by the Dozen

My sister and I have been rereading some old favorites...."Cheaper by the Dozen" and "Belles on their Toes" by Frank Gilbreth and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey. Our copies are unbelieveably old- 1949 and 1950, and belonged to library systems before the ended up in our hands, so I have no idea how many times they've been read over the years. They're in quite good condition...though...

No, I'm not writing a post on antique books. Rather, I would like to introduce you to the Gilbreth family, if you have not already had the pleasure of meeting them elsewhere!

Frank and Ernestine were numbers 5 and 3 (respectively) of twelve children who were raised by the most remarkable Frank and Lillian Gilbreth, founders of motion study.

Motion study, is quite simply, the method of eliminating unneeded motions to make any job more effecient. Mr. Gilbreth, besides being a sucessful building contractor, was also a consultant to factories and other operations to assist them in speeding up their production rate.

But the hilarity of the books comes when Mr. Gilbreth brings his motion study techniques to his home and tries them out on his children...and the books are full of delightful stories of this family's madcap escapades and surprisingly efficient (no pun intended) way of managing twelve children.

We made quite a sight rolling along in the car, with the top down. As we passed through cities and villages, we caused a stir equaled only by a circus parade.

This was the part that Dad liked best of all. He'd slow down to five miles an hour and he'd blow the horns away at imaginary obstacles and cars two blocks away. The horns were Dad's calliope.

"I seen eleven of them, not counting the man and the woman," someone would shout from the sidewalk.

"You missed the second baby up front here, Mister," Dad would call over his shoulder.

Mother would make believe she hadn't heard anything, and look straight ahead.

Pedestrians would come scrambling from side streets and children would ask their parents to lift them onto their shoulders.

"How do you grow them carrot tops, Brother?"

"These?" Dad would bellow. "These aren't so much, Friend. You ought to see the ones I left at home."

Whenever the crowds gathered at some intersection where we were stopped by traffic, the inevitable question came sooner or later.

"How do you feed all those kids, Mister?"

Dad would ponder for a minute. Then, rearing back so those on the outskirts could hear, he'd say as it he had just thought it up:

"Well, they come cheaper by the dozen, you know!"

Cheaper by the Dozen, pages 21-21

But what I really love are Mr. Gilbreths innovative ways of teaching his children everything from typing on a keyboard to sailing a catboat. He instinctively knows how to make his children want to learn, without forcing them. For an teach them Morse code on their summer vacation...

After lunch he got a small paint bruch and a can of black enamel, and locked himself in the lavatory, where he painted the alphabet in code on the wall.

For the next three days Dad was busy with his paint bruch, writing code over the whitewash in every room in The Shoe. On the ceilinb in the dormitory bedrooms, he wrote the alphabet together with key words, whose accents were a reminder of the code for the various letters. It went like this: A dot-dash, a-BOUT; B, dash-dot-dot-dot, BOIS-ter-ous-ly; C, dash-dot-dash-dot, CARE-less CHILD-ren; D, dash-dot-dot, DAN-ger-ous, etc.

When you lay on your back, dozing, the words kept going through your head, and you'd find yourself saying, "DAN-gerous, dash-dot-dot, DAN-gerous."

He painted secret messages in code on the walls of the front porch and dining room.

"What do they say, Daddy?" we asked him.

"Many things," he replied mysterious. "Many secret things and many things of great humor."

We went into the bedrooms and copied the code alphabet on pieces of paper. Then, referring to the paper, we started translating Dad's messages. He went right on painting, as if he were paying no attention to us, but he didn't miss a word.

"Lord, what awful puns," said Anne. "And this, I presume, is meant to fit into the category of 'things of great humor.' Listen to this one; 'Bee it ever so bumble there's no place like comb.' "

"And we're stung," Ern moaned. "We're not going to be satisfied until we translate them all. I see dash-dot-dash-dot and I hear myself repeating CARE-less CHILD-ren. "

Cheaper by the Dozen, pages 122-123
And so on, and so forth. The second book, "Belles on Their Toes" is the story of Mrs. Gilbreth and how she held her family together after the death of her husband. However, I won't quote more here in fear of boring you all excessively. I will say, however, that the books are a thousand times better than the new Steve Martin movies that have recently come out, and other than the title and the fact that both families have twelve children, there is virtually no resemblance between them.


Abby said...

I loved these books! The part about naming them the "19__ model", and the part about naming their children after previous boyfriends and girlfriends. The whole book itself (well, both of the books) are some serious humor!

Elenatintil said...

I know, they're so delightful to read! I remember being so thrilled to find "Belles on Their Toes" because for a long time we didn't know there was a sequel. Right now I'm in the section where the boys are teaching Jane how to be "popular" which is so funny because their family is really quite conservative...wish I had four elder brothers who were so willing to be helpful!

Josh said...

Way to encourage reading these books without telling people they must read these books... That is how it is done!

I find myself wanting to read these books at some point now.

Elenatintil said...


Miranda said...

I haven't read the books (wrist slap), but I have seen the first movie (the old version). I can't understand how the newer movies even get away with calling themselves "Cheaper by the Dozen." The story bears almost zero resemblance to the original--which was charming and funny and heartwarming. I should read the books sometime.

Elenatintil said...

Yes, the new movies annoy me...(well, the second one was a bit better, but it was still annoying.)

And, as always, the books are better than the movies. But I'm impressed that you saw the original!

Rose Marchen said...

Am checking them out of the library now!

I've seen the older movie versions of both books and I loved them! We laughed so much!

Elenatintil said...

They are hilarious! Let me know what you think of the books!

Unknown said...

I haven't read the second, but I love the first! I read it on the way to Italy and fell in love withit immediatly! I now dislike the movie. It is not even slightly like the book. AAHHHHHH!!!!

Ivy said...

I borrowed "Cheaper By the Dozen" form my aunt when I was about 9 years old. Naturally, a lot of it went right over my head, but what I understood I found hilarious! I've re-read them several times since then and ah...they're so good!